Disclaimer: I worked as an engineer at Plaxo a long time ago (in internet years… in human years it was five months ago).
In October of last year, an engineering colleague asked me about this whole “Plaxo is evil. Plaxo is spam” thing. At the time I went in to a long boring lecture about Plaxo and privacy/security. (I don’t need to go into it here, you can read this to get a taste.)
After sitting through it, he asked me this simple question: “If you didn’t work for Plaxo, would you use it?”
I answered, “I’ll do you one better. I’m not going to be working for Plaxo much longer, and I’ll continue to use it after I leave.”
“Good enough for me.”
[The power of connections. The power of search. After the jump]
The need to connect (for real)
“The great irony is that we work on the bleeding edge of the internet using a very low tech way to get together. It’s another Forum. It’s as old as speech and bread.”
—David Kellogg, on the success of Lunch 2.0
Remember the day you realized the internet boom was just a bubble? Maybe it was around the time people were selling 20 pound bags of dogfood with free shipping. We realized that there were some “bricks-n-mortar” stores that the internet stores wouldn’t replace. Not everything could be done online.
The above incident gets me thinking about the Web 2.0 bubble. It’s not nearly as large but it is finally seeing the limits. Whether it’s the incident where we realize “I know you, I trust you.” trumps any rational argument, the disconnect Holly experiences in a small lifecasting incident, or the ironic “success” of Lunch 2.0—there is the power in the personal, that no social network is going to replace. At best, it can only hope to supplement.
We have a need to connect in real ways. And all the in the world won’t fill that void
The power of the search
Unfortunately, most of you reading this don’t know me. (Or, if you do, you probably don’t trust me. ) This is why articles like this make me sad.
I used to say that there are pretty much two Web 2.0 business out there:
- Those based on social networking
- Those based on search
(And then the corollary observation: they’re both powered by advertising.)
And an incident which I think is all too common is this one. Someone uses the power of search to evaluate the power of a social network. In Web 2.0, the search trumps the social network.
When you think “search” you think Google—that’s why results like this or this one mean something. Knowing that people are basing their decisions off those search results hurt, even though I no longer work at Plaxo.
Five minutes is only going to be enough time if you actually know and trust someone.
The wisdom of crowds can be wrong
What to do when the wisdom of the crowds becomes the convential wisdom? “Plaxo is evil. Plaxo is spam.”
Stephen Colbert once famously teased this.
Unlike Wikipedia, we can’t appeal to neutrality or edit what’s already out there. Google is too harsh a mistress.
Crafting a response
The comment was on a blog (found through a search), so dulce et decorum est, I respond on this blog:
I thought that Plaxo removed the checkbox that allows you to send to your entire address book. Do you have an old version of their toolbar? Perhaps you want to upgrade.
My recollection is that their Outlook toolbar now has all the contacts unchecked, has no “check all” feature, and puts up a warning when you try send an update request to over a certain number of people in your address book.
(I don’t know for certain because I’m on a Mac, and the Plaxo Mac client has never had a spam feature.)
I really recommend you read the content (and the dates) of the posts you mention before you write Plaxo off. I honestly think that Plaxo is a great tool that has no peer that supplements social networking to maintain your connections. Then again, I’m biased since I once worked at the company.
Personally, I think the anti-Plaxo argument very ironic given that this approach is de-facto of every social network: I signed up for Bebo last week, and I couldn’t even “uncheck all” on the invites (I had to write down the names of all the people already on Bebo, skip the import step, and invite them normally. What a pain in the…)
While logically and legally there is no company out there that protects your privacy as well as Plaxo. I understand where people are coming from emotionally. There is something wrong to Plaxo’s attempt to allow non-members to participate (i.e. you can update Wendy’s information without becoming a member) which I haven’t been able to put my finger on. This impacts on how “opt-out” is perceived and is the source of many people’s issue with Plaxo.
Now that Plaxo has shifted focus from “update requests” to “invitation to join,” I think that issue is being addressed. Unfortunately, all this bland “Plaxo is evil” or “Plaxo is spam” stuff is stuck on the internet. Forever.
Politics and how this blog started
In this blog, I put religion and politics in the same category. This is because I believe fundamentally that Church and State should be separate in the body politic, but never in ourselves. Our morals inform our every decision.
I started this blog after the 2004 U.S. Presidential election. I was angry and depressed and felt the need to vent. I think you can infer my politics from that, but I was not always that way. A month before, my father mentioned that if he was voting (for the first time he wasn’t), he’d probably vote for George W. Bush. I got angry and said:
“You know something is really wrong with the country when Ken and I agree on politics.”
(Now, my brother jokes that I’m probably left of his hippie-loving Berkeley liberalness. And he’s probably right.)
I don’t blog about politics or religion much anymore. It’s because something my father said in response:
“Nobody said democracy is perfect. It’s just the best thing we’ve got. Terry, maybe you’re right, and I’m wrong. But if you are, then have some faith in our system that the truths will come out. Have some faith that people can change. They just don’t have to change on your timetable.”
“Why we blog”
Dad and I still disagree about politics, and that will probably never change. But I can agree with him about this. Sometimes, you have to have a little faith. So, even though it futile because reality trumps virtual and search trumps social, I’ll post this article. I have faith in this community, the internet, which we are all here a part of.
Maybe that’s why all of us blog—so we can reach toward truth, one discussion at a time.
Update: Brian’s followup. Thanks!